When you live and work in Europe, invariably you will travel for business to some of the other European countries on the continent. This is since the nations of the common market are so tightly knitted together these days. Our most in-depth journey to Italy if you will occurred in 2001 when we took a 2 week packaged tour that brought us to the main touristic cities of the country that looks like a boot.
That was indeed a perfect introduction, for it fulfilled a long cherished wish for Mel to see for real the relics and monuments of the vast Roman civilization. For the history and arts buffs in all of us, Italy is truly a challenging mélange of flavors that strains your palette to its limits.
Home to a glorious civilization about 2000 years ago, Italy retains a lot of heritage and relics from that time despite the countless conflicts and invaders that swept through what we consider to be a long peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. And after the dark ages, again it was Italy that was in the forefront of leading Europe out into the light of the renaissance, heralding an age of knowledge and creativity that was dormant for so long.
The packaged tour
Definitely no handprint in Italy is complete without being in Rome, the eternal city.
Historically, the city ‘only’ emerged into prominence in the late 2nd century BC, well after Alexander the Great’s feats of conquests. It had been a vulnerable city republic that grew because of rivalry with its neighbors, and the fortuitous victories that accumulated for this city eventually brought it ancient world Super Power status. So when in Rome, explore the monuments that symbolized Roman power (and do as the Romans do too). But of course today the city is not just eternal because of its political power, but because it “houses” the Vatican in its heart.
Further along the coast southwards, definitely enjoy some sunshine on the coast of Sorrento and be sure to get across to Capri. Imagine how the folks from Pompeii would have enjoyed their summer before the hot ash smoldered life out of the city. Honestly, Pompeii would had been the equivalent or even well exceeds present day sin city Las Vegas. Look out for the murals in the villas and the nice “advertisements” that adorn the sidewalks of the excavated streets.
The medieval center of refinement that led to the renaissance is definitely a must to stopover. You simply cannot miss out on Florence, Siena and Pisa. Spend some time under the Tuscan sun to really appreciate what Frances wrote about life in the quaint Italian rural country… If not, than just a throw across to Romagna is where the devout can join in the monks of Assisi for prayers.
In the distant north, the country becomes totally different from that in the south with mountains and lakes fed by the glaciers dominating the horizon. And Venice is so crowded that there are probably more tourists and foreigners in the city than local inhabitants! We think Verona is nice, but don’t go there for Juliet’s window, it’s such a hoax!
Actually San Marino is an independent republic that is landlocked within Italy. When we drove into this small enclave of just 60+km² (they say 5th smallest in the world), we have effectively crossed an international border within Italy, just as we did at the Vatican. You will have to know that Italians are a very practical lot too, like all of us. San Marino has lower taxes and cheaper priced products. So a lot of “international” crossings take place every day.
On our own we had stayed mostly to the northern end of the country. For business, Mel frequented the Lombardy region very frequently, thus it was only natural to take some time to combine work with a little of leisure (or pleasure).
Milan is not just a commercial center but also a fashion powerhouse. One cannot be in Milan without making a pilgrimage to its boutiques. In these temples of the fashion conscious, the latest on offer are snapped up eagerly by locals and visitors alike. You never know if you have been elbowing a famous movie star or singer for that latest bag.
But that was not all Milan had to offer. The Sforzas were a powerful family that ruled the city and the surrounds as a dukedom in medieval times and their fortress is still impressive till today.
Fortunately there was more than just shopping to be had. Our drives took us to heritage monasteries and hilltop towns not unlike San Marino. Bergamo is a hilltop town that protected itself via its location high up the Cliffside. Meanwhile, Cremona is a city famed for the manufacture of violins. It has so many foreign students there studying music.
While on package tours, the meals are normally not fantastic. However when you are on your own the world (Italy we mean) is your oyster. From pastas to pizzas to game meat, Italian cuisine must be one of the best in the world. It’s no wonder that it has gained so many fans across the world. There had been times when Mel went to restaurants that serve more than 100 different types of pasta. Rarely does anyone get past 12-15 servings…especially if you were to wash it down with lots of Italian wine.
Now we know why the Romans had such an amount of feasting and …